If This Is A Recession I Will Run Down The Street Naked*

The asterisk is because obviously there will be a recession one day the trick is to have an idea of when it could start. For me to run down the street naked, something I haven’t done since high school, a recession has to start in the next six months.

Why all the confidence? Well aside from all these pundits coming out saying there is a 100% chance that we are in a recession or that a recession will start before summer the reason is that the data doesn’t show it. You can make up indicators that don’t really make sense either in their construction or their interpretations or you can focus on one relatively narrow segment of the economy but none of that actually means we are entering a recession.

If you want to gauge the probability of a recession it might be helpful to really study the business cycle and how we enter and exit recession as well as how we do not. You then want to build a battery of models to help you interpret what is happening and what is likely to happen going forward. If you do this, and don’t focus on just one indicator, you will be far better off than what most pundits do.

One thing to look at, and maybe the most studied indicator in the history of economic indicators, is the yield spread. You can use just about any of the common spreads like the 10-2, 10-Fed Funds, 30-Fed Funds, 20-Fed Funds, etc. Anything that is definitely towards the long end of the curve and the short end of the curve should do. By the way you can do all of this in Excel using the excellent FRED plugin from the St Louis Federal Reserve.

What does the yield spread tell us? Well in general terms it is a tool that helps us gauge how tight or loose liquidity is. If the Fed wants loose monetary conditions they usually lower the Fed Funds rate and if they want tighter conditions they usually raise the Fed Funds rate. You can see this clearly in the chart below of the 20-Year yield, the Fed Funds rate, and recessions.  When the Fed wants to slow the business cycle the red line moves higher as they raise rates and when they want to spur business on they lower Fed Funds and the red line drops. Look at where we are now.

20 Year Yield and Fed Funds Rate

20 Year Yield and Fed Funds Rate

If we look at the actual spread of these two yields it might help you see what we are pointing at. You take the 20-Year yield and subtract the Fed Funds yield to get the spread. When it is moving higher we are usually expanding and when it gets almost flat or even inverted we are usually close to a recession.  Right now the spread is narrowing but it is a long ways off from being flat let alone inverted.

Yield Spread

Yield Spread

So right now it should be obvious that the Fed, despite hiking rates back in December, is still allowing business to enjoy relatively loose monetary policy. Everything from the yield spread is saying that a recession is not very likely in the near term. Before we end this however lets look at what a probit model says about the position of the yield spread.

The chart below shows the odds of a recession based on a model from Jonathan Wright at the Fed. His paper “The Yield Curve and Predicting US Recessions” shows how he built this model and how it works. In the paper there are actually two models. Model 1 is decent but Model 2 has been more accurate. What is great is that you can use both of them and then try and figure out what the yield curve and the Fed really want. Model 1 currently is saying there is a 17.91% chance of a recession while Model 2 is saying that there is a 0.05% chance of a recession.  Even if we just take an average of the two we get down to a 8.98% chance of a recession which is a far cry from a 100% chance or even a 50% chance of a recession.

Yield Curve Probit Model

Yield Curve Probit Model

Now to be fair we use far more indicators and models than just the yield spread. But here is the thing…only manufacturing is giving any real signs of stress. Every other major group of indicators is showing neutral to positive readings. Check out housing, employment, or even wages and you will see that things are actually looking pretty good.

Go immerse yourself in the data and see for yourself. In the meantime I am betting on me NOT having to run down the street naked.

Happy Trading,

Dave@TheMacroTrader.com

http://TheMacroTrader.com

Take a $1 trial of The Macro Trader to receive unbiased actionable research

 

Employment Leading or Lagging Indicator?

If you read much on the business cycle then you have probably heard that “employment is a lagging indicator”. We have read and heard it from the mouths of pundits on TV, economists on TV and in print, and in research reports.  But as with anything just because a lot of people say something doesn’t mean its true. The earth was only flat until someone tried it out and realized it was not.

The same goes for employment. If you use the most basic of employment indicators the headline unemployment rate and then match it up with recessions, easily done in Excel with the FRED plug-in (BTW I love FRED and you should too), then you can see that employment is not only NOT a lagging indicator but is not even a coincident indicator. If it doesn’t lag and it doesn’t coincide then what is left? Yes, it is a LEADING indicator. Crazy right? All those people on TV are wrong who would have guessed (read with a heavy dose of sarcasm)?

Here I took the unemployment rate and flipped it to become the employment rate. it is the same data but in a happier more optimistic format. It is overlaid on the NBER recession dates. If you look at it, and you don’t even have to look very closely, you will see that there is a very consistent pattern leading up to a recession. The rate starts to roll over. In the 50’s and 60’s it was barely a leading indicator but since then the lead has gotten longer and longer. How it was ever considered a lagging indicator is beyond me.

Percentage of Workforce That Is Employed

Percentage of Workforce That Is Employed

So what is this chart telling us, or indicating to us, right now? Well if you believe the post-WW2 period has any relevance to today, we obviously do, then it is saying that we are not in a recession and are not overly close to entering a recession.  Anything can happen and this indicator could be wrong this cycle but based on the data the odds are low.

Happy Trading,

Dave@TheMacroTrader.com

http://TheMacroTrader.com

Take a $1 trial of The Macro Trader to receive unbiased actionable research

 

P.S.-before you send me a chart of the labor force participation rate let me say a few things. 1-I have seen it, have charted it, studied it, etc. so I know its declining and am not really worried 2-I would invite you to not just look at it and listen to a pundit but actually download the data, read about the data, compare it to other data, study demographics, and then if you still think I just NEED to see it feel free to send it my way.

Two Tales Of The Same Indicators

As of late we have been seeing the following chart pop up all over our Twitter feed as well as in our inbox.  You don’t even have to look very closely to see that over the past 20-Years the ISM Manufacturing Index and the year over year change in the SP500 have been highly correlated. This might lead you to believe that we are headed for a doom and gloom bear market and even a recession. After all an ISM reading below 50 indicates a contraction while readings above 50 indicate expansions.  With a reading of 48.2 we are obviously below 50.  So guaranteed recession right? Not so fast.

ISM and SP500 Last 20-Years

ISM and SP500 Last 20-Years

If you look at the above chart again, but closely this time, you can also see that not only does it only cover the time period from 1998-now but that there have been several reading below 50 that did not lead to a recession.  If we instead turn our eyes to the next chart of the 10-Year correlations of the ISM PMI and the SP500 YoY change we can see that it has only been in the past 10 years or so that the relationship was anything near what it is today. In fact right now the correlations are at an all-time high around 80%. Looking at past eras however show that sometimes the relationship has been at 40%, others in the 20% range, and still others displayed a negative correlation. Yes, this means that when the ISM index went negative, sub-50, the SP500 went positive.

ISM-10-Year-Correlations With SP500 YoY Change

ISM-10-Year-Correlations With SP500 YoY Change

If we look at the next chart of the ISM Index and the SP500 YoY, but this time all the way back to the beginning of the ISM data we can see how tenuous this relationship has been over time.  Not only has a sub-50 ISM number not been anything close to an automatic recession but it doesn’t even mean stocks have to go lower.

ISM and SP500 Full History

ISM and SP500 Full History

Now could stocks go lower and could we be in a recession?  Of course they could and of course we could. The point we are trying to make is that there are so many false positives that you can not overweight this indicator to much in your framework. In fact if we look over the history of the ISM, or just the history of the economy, we can see that manufacturing is actually less important to the economy than ever before and that this has been a long term trend as we have transitioned towards a service/knowledge based economy. We don’t make stuff if we can have China make our stuff cheaper.  In fact manufacturing currently only represents 12% of GDP and 8.6% of employment in the United States.  Seen in this light, and combined with the rest of our business cycle work, we do not see an imminent recession in the United States.

At the same time according to JP Morgan manufacturing does account for almost 60% of the profits in SP500 companies.  So while the odds of a recession are relatively low the odds of earnings being low and going lower are fairly high. This would not be the first time that we had a correction or even a bear market amidst an expansion.

Don’t overweight any indicator more than its history and causality deserves. Don’t mistake a mid-cycle correction with a recession or the end of the world.  Do take a holistic approach to the economy and look under as many rocks as you can while also figuring out what really moves what. Finally, at least for now, realize that as important as the stock market and the economy are, in the short run, they are not the same thing.  Trade accordingly.

Happy Trading,

Dave@TheMacroTrader.com

http://TheMacroTrader.com

Take a $1 trial of The Macro Trader to receive unbiased actionable research

Global Macro-Generate Superior Returns With Less Risk

We at The Macro Trader are obviously fans of Global Macro as an investment strategy and even philosophy. Fortunately the data backs us up showing that global macro not only generates higher returns but does it with far lower risk than equities.

The chart below shows how you would have done if you had invested $1,000 into the Credit Suisse Macro Hedge Fund Index, SP500, and Barclays Aggregate Bond Index since 1994. As you can see the CS Macro Hedge Fund Index did drastically better than either stocks or bonds. To be more specific the CS Macro Index beat the SP500 by 2.11 times and the AGG Index by 2.75 times.  So that shows the returns but what about the risk taken to achieve these returns?

Global Macro vs SP500 vs Lehman AGG Bond Index

Global Macro vs SP500 vs Lehman AGG Bond Index

We have a few different charts to display the risks taken to generate the returns in each index. First we will show the historical drawdown charts. A drawdown is simply anytime you are not at new highs in your account. If you have $100 and lose $5 you are in a -5% drawdown. The deeper the drawdown the higher the return needed to get back to breakeven and the math, while simple, can be tricky. For instance if you lose -50% many think you need to make 50% to get to breakeven. The reality is that you need 100% to get to breakeven. In our case of being down -5% you only need a 5.26% return to get to breakeven but it gets harder the deeper you get.

Looking at a drawdown chart of the SP500 you can see that not only are stocks usually in a drawdown but over the past 20+ years we have had two massive drawdowns that took years to make up. We know them as the DotCom crash and the GFC-Global Financial Crisis. It took the SP500 57 months to recover from the DotCom crash and 50 months to recover from the GFC.

SP500-Drawdowns

SP500-Drawdowns

At the opposite end of the spectrum we have the drawdowns of the Barclays AGG Fixed Income Index. As you can see the AGG Index has frequent but small drawdowns with the worst one barely dropping below -5%. It only took nine months for the AGG index to fully recover from the worst drawdown and three months to recover from the second deepest drawdown.

Lehman/Barclays AGG Fixed Income Index Drawdowns

Lehman/Barclays AGG Fixed Income Index Drawdowns

Finally we have the CS Global Macro Index drawdowns. As you can see its worst drawdown was a -26.79% and its second worst was -14.94%. It took 19 months to recover from the -26% drawdown and 19 months to recover from the -14.94% drawdown.

Credit Suisse Global Macro Index Drawdowns

Credit Suisse Global Macro Index Drawdowns

Another way to show the depth and length of the drawdowns is to plot both the equity line as well as the new highs line. In each of the next three charts the green line equals the highest the equity line got, notice it never dips down, and the red line is the equity curve which goes both up and down.

Here is the SP500. As you can see while it hit a new high in 2007 it then went back down. In essence it took about 12 years before investors were really making new money. While this is a worse than “normal” period it is also not the first or the second time that the stock market has had a rough decade.

SP500 DD and NH

SP500 DD and NH

Looking at the AGG Fixed Income Index we see that the drawdowns are both shallow and short. If you were in the AGG Index you would not make the most money but you also took very little risk.

Lehman-Barclays AGG Fixed Income Index DD and NH

Lehman-Barclays AGG Fixed Income Index DD and NH

Finally we have the CS Global Macro Index. As you can see the drawdowns while larger than that of the AGG index are far smaller than the SP500 index. It kind of takes the middle route in regards to risk but it drastically outperforms both in regards to return.

Credit Suisse Global Macro Index DD and NH

Credit Suisse Global Macro Index DD and NH

Another way to look at the risk and return is to look at the 12-Month Rolling Returns. At any point in the chart you are looking at the returns you would have gotten if you had invested 12-Months ago.  As you can see the SP500-red line has the highest 12-Month returns but also the lowest 12-Month returns. The AGG Index-green line almost always shows positive returns but it never has a really big year. Finally the CS Macro Index-blue line again comes somewhere in the middle. It is positive almost as often as the bond index but the 12-Month period to 12-Month period returns are less than stocks.

Global Macro-SP500-AGG 12-Month Rolling Returns

Global Macro-SP500-AGG 12-Month Rolling Returns

Basically global macro has lower volatility and more consistent returns than the stock market and almost as consistent returns and far more gains than the bond market.  The main reason that this is possible is that as opposed to either the stock or bond index a global macro fund can go long and short anything and trade derivatives on anything. Most macro managers stick to liquid instruments but that still means you have hundreds if not thousands of tradeable instruments. The flexibility inherent in global macro allows you to always find a bull market somewhere whether that is being long stocks, short stocks, long the Australian Dollar, or short the Australian Dollar. You can bet on US Treasuries against German Bunds or across almost any other market relationship you can think of. Not only is global macro flexible but macro managers are famous for stringent risk management practices. It is almost cliche but in the end risk management is one of the keys to success in any trading approach and one of the most important things that separate macro from long only buy and hold.

What about claims in the press that “hedge funds have under-performed the SP500 since the GFC?” Well that is true but if you are picking only half a cycle than it is probably not a fair comparison. In the chart below you can see what happened to the CS Macro Index and the SP500 from the end of 2008 until the end of August 2015. As you can see the stock market is ahead.

2009-Now

2009-Now

Of course that was just in a bull move when everything was headed up. If instead of the end of 2008 or the end of February 2009 we use 2007 as our starting point we get a drastically different result. In this case the flexibility and risk reduction inherent in the global macro approach shines as the CS Macro Index outperforms the SP500 with both higher returns and far lower risk.

2007-Now

2007-Now

As far back as we have data global macro has outperformed both stocks and bonds across full market cycle. On the other hand long only equities has been profitable but has had some very long and deep periods of negative returns.  We are obviously biased towards global macro. We have a site and run a research service dedicated to it. You could say we drank the kool-aid and live and breathe this stuff. At the same time however many of the most successful money managers in history have been macro managers and the data shows that when done right it can lead to both higher absolute and risk adjusted returns.  So while we are indeed biased we think that the case is fairly strong in our favor.

 

Happy Trading,

Dave@TheMacroTrader.com

http://TheMacroTrader.com

Take a $1 trial of The Macro Trader to receive unbiased actionable research

Optimists Survive By Eating Bears

Today (9/10/15) David Tepper came on CNBC for an hour. The whole discussion is worth watching but one thing he said is missed time and time again by many investors.

“I’m not real comfortable being short stocks because there’s a bias for stocks to go up over time”-Tepper

Tepper has been putting up 25-30% returns for over 20-Years with billions under management. He is one of the best traders in history, great at sizing up risk reward, security selection, and timing….and yet he says “I’m not real comfortable being short stocks because there’s a bias for stocks to go up over time.”

One of the sub-segments of the investment/econ space that I enjoy are the “end of the world as we know it” genre. They are mainly published at market bottoms while the super bullish books are published at market tops (remember Dow 40,000?) but we also see a lot of them mid cycle as well. For whatever reason doom and gloom sells very well. The short argument always sounds like the intelligent argument. To make it worse there is always a lot of data that shows real reasons to be worried. Look at any of the books in the picture below and they are filled with data and charts showing impending doom. If you look at the publishing dates however they either missed the crash or just got the entire thesis wrong. (BTW I recently moved and have not unfinished packing or I could have shown a stack four feet high of end of the world books. For whatever reason I cannot resist the urge when I am in a used bookstore).

The end of the world

The end of the world

What the perma-bears get wrong is that over time civilization has indeed improved its lot in life. Yes, there are downturns but more often than not stocks go UP and not down. If someone as smart as Tepper is wary of shorting then what does that say about what you should be doing?

Looking at US assets over time using data from the Credit Suisse Global Investment Returns Yearbook we can see that stocks go up….a lot….over time. Even after taking into account inflation you would have 1,396 times your money from 1900-2014. Bonds and bills are less explosive but even there they go up over time.

Cumulative Real Returns USA

Cumulative Real Returns USA

Over the past 115 years you would have been fighting a 6.5% annual upwards drift by shorting stocks. That means that you are fighting a 0.54% hurdle each month. And of course that doesn’t even include any borrowing costs, commissions, or taxes.

Annualized Real Returns USA

Annualized Real Returns USA

Now all of this is not to say that we don’t short because we do. We have had success going long and short across asset classes to include stocks. What I am saying is that you need to have a really good reason to fight long term trends in markets. If you can’t figure out why you have an edge on any given trade then you are probably better off not doing it. Oh and in case you are wondering “stocks are overvalued” or “Because the Fed” are not sufficient answers.

If you want more info on the long term bias of stocks to go higher, or just want to get a lot smarter, pick up a copy of the book “Triumph of the Optimists” by Dimson, Marsh, and Staunton.

Happy Trading,

Dave@TheMacroTrader.com

http://TheMacroTrader.com

Take a $1 trial of The Macro Trader to receive unbiased actionable research